France 'ready to fight for Gorazde'

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The French Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, said yesterday that France had offered a force of 1,000 men to help defend the Bosnian enclave of Gorazde, but he also strongly criticised the Americans for their reluctance to become involved.

"If the United States had lifted a finger to support the peace plans one or two years ago,'' he said, "the war could have been stopped.''

Mr Juppe was speaking on French television shortly after the conclusion of talks in Washington between the Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rif-kind, and the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher. The talks were said to have "limited the field of discussion'', but not yet to have solved all the problems.

Mr Juppe said a ''certain number of objections'' had been raised to the French proposals because they were regarded as "insufficiently precise''.

France has asked the US to supply helicopters to transfer troops to help in the defence of Gorazde, and Britain is said to be making its support for the initiative dependent on US support. France regards Gorazde, which is 70km from Sarajevo and defended by British members of the UN peace- keeping force, as the test of Western resolve in former Yugoslavia, following the fall of Srebrenica last week.

In the same television interview, Mr Juppe repeated earlier French complaints that Bosnian Croats were blocking the deployment of the French-commanded element of the Rapid Reaction Force.

Earlier in the day, he said France would ask for ''intervention to protect the 'safe zones' of Bosnia-Herzegovina'' at tomorrow's meeting in London, "in accordance with international law and morality''.

Unlike earlier statements from French officials, Mr Juppe's words contained no reference to any deadlines or specific military action.

"We cannot accept,'' he said, "the sort of scenes that we saw in Srebrenica and that we could still see in Zepa.''